Sunday, 21 October 2018

Bossy or Collaborative? The One Where The Apprentice Can't Decide What Makes a Good Leader

Hi Everyone

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This week, The Apprentice marched into its 3rd week, and provided a complete contrast to last week's shenanigans.  Both weeks, leaders were criticised for their style - but if they are opposites, and both to be criticised, then what is acceptable?

Leadership is a vast topic, and style is both learned and down to the individual.  It's also about the team - some teams need more direction than others, whilst a mature team would hate to be micro-managed.  This also ties in with Tuckman's model of the journey a team takes through Forming - Storming - Norming and Performing.

Khadija Kalifa, The Apprentice (BBC, EH)

Last week, the girls were led by Khadija Kalifa, a no-nonsense bossypants who bulldozed everyone in her path.  Her style of leadership was dictatorship as she told her team what they would be doing (all her ideas, of course) and limited contribution, because who could no better than her, right?
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Not surprisingly, the team hated her style and found it easy to criticise her.  They were frustrated, marginalised and far from harmonious.  It was a recipe for disaster, but because the boys were worse, the girls won, and Khadija's style was given less examination than a defeat would have caused.   

Personally, I found her style abhorrent.  You can't talk to people like dog shit, and you can't exclude them from the very purpose of the team.  There was no inclusivity, and leadership was clearly all about ego.

Tom Bunday, The Apprentice (BBC, EH)

This week, Tom Bunday was ALLLL about inclusivity.  He consulted the team, asked for their thoughts, facilitated organised debate and allowed everyone to contribute.  For me, it was good leadership - he created a harmonious dynamic we rarely see on The Apprentice.

Karen Brady hated it, accusing him of sitting back, stepping back, leading by putting things to a vote, but for me this misses the point completely.   A good leader SHOULD invite contribution, even when they absolutely know what they want.  Leadership is not about directing, it's about ENGAGING, and that's what Tom's style did.

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I once worked at a food company.  I led the sales team, but the bulk of the business was a factory, and as such, a factory culture was everywhere.  At one point (as so often happens), my team needed answers from the head honchos, so I arranged a meeting where they could ask all their questions and understand where the business was headed.

This meeting was for my team.  The agenda was theirs, not mine, so I allowed them to run the meeting.  They brought the questions, so it didn't feel fair for me to ask them on their behalf.  So I facilitated - I chaired the meeting and ask them to air their concerns.

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The verdict? That I wasn't a leader.  I had let my team take over.  I had abdicated and let my team "run wild" - honestly, they said that. I was being judged by people who were not leaders - managers, yes; leaders, nooooo - people who didn't understand that it was important for employees to have this opportunity to resolve issues.

Le sigh.  I think the lesson is, when your style is quite "hard", quite no nonsense, quite directing, it's very hard to understand how a low key, collaborative, almost self-effacing style can ever be successful.  Now those drivers might still understand the need to engage people, but usually, it's lip service.  They already know what they want, they just offer the illusion of debate.  A true leader, one who is completely for the people, is genuinely consultative, and egoless enough for that to be the best solution.

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So which leader are you?   Most of us are somewhere on the spectrum between Khalidja and Tom, and that's fine.  You can be one or the other as long as you appreciate the benefits of both.  Remember, leadership really isn't about you.  It's only ever about your people.

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